During the worst days of the pandemic, fear was so thick you could cut it with a knife: in the larger hospitals, where suffering is commonplace, experienced doctors would burst into tears of impotence, and trainee nurses would hug in sympathy, deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way, physically and psychologically; in care homes, where the elderly were dying alone; in supermarkets, where distrusting glances were exchanged; at traffic checkpoints during the night; in the thick night-time silence when you could hear your own footsteps walking home at the end of the working day and you would occasionally cross paths with another zombie-like figure.
Now fear is slowly subsiding. The data confirm that the virus’ incidence has dropped down to a level that our health service can manage. Having thwarted the spread of the disease, the state of emergency that has kept people in isolation for weeks is being eased off. The lockdown has succeeded in keeping lethality and the number of new cases down, but now we need to overcome the economic, social and psychological side effects of the pandemic.
Life is slowly regaining the upper hand, with thousands of wonderful, apparently selfless, gestures. Children can walk outside and you can hear their shrieks in a city that remained silent for weeks, not only when people stayed at home, but also when they began to come out in some sort of unnervingly quiet, disciplined, evening procession. Elderly ladies have been to the hair salon and can be seen queuing outside the haberdashery shop, impeccably coiffed, the smell of blue rinse hanging in the air. Bakers are selling their bread again and gone is the fear of buying a loaf, now that the novelty of baking your own has worn off. Some sit on the boulevards and people-watch while someone is enjoying a cold one outside a bar, even if they are leaning on a motorcycle, enjoying the first summer sip, like every year.
Bicycles have become the go-to means of transport of the new era and takeaway food is the popular choice, from gourmet restaurants all the way down to the long-missed local greasy spoon that caters to every generation. This new time has come while the sea remains off-limits in many places and as, more than ever, we truly appreciate having a quiet time for reflection without fearing that someone will die or the world will collapse.
The new era has arrived without warning and, unlike on other occasions, this time we are not witnessing a progressive transformation, but a disruption brought about by the implosion of the world of yesteryear. As with all sudden changes, this one will also take its toll. That’s why ARA has spoken about it with psychologists and mental health experts. In an overly-medicated society where mental health issues carry a stigma, we will need to learn to ask for help and monitor the psychological strength of those around us, many of whom have been through unprecedented, desperate situations, with their loved ones literally disappearing and dying alone without a farewell, neither before nor after.
SPACES TO RECLAIM
There are many spaces for us to reclaim as social beings in this new era when we will not forget to wash our hands and wear a mask. Everyone in their own time —and at the pace set by the virus— we will all have to explore the space of reconnection with others, which will require placing greater demands on ourselves and not rushing to judge others in shared spaces. Likewise, we urgently need to reconnect with the elderly people we love, need and do not wish to endanger. We owe them warmth and a huge debt of love, now that their path is narrowing and it is becoming hard to follow, disoriented as they are and on their own.
The new era has descended upon us while the problems of the earlier period remain in place, the woes of a time which we now refer to as normal, in an exercise in optimism about the past. Today’s ARA reports on one such regrettable relic affecting society nowadays: sexual abuse. This Sunday we publish a months-long investigative report by Albert Llimós and Núria Juanico that has seen them talk to dozens of people who were directly and indirectly involved in a case that only caught the attention of justice once it had prescribed, out of the usual fear of disbelief, victimisation and shame.
Our investigation has revealed that, for twenty years, underage students in Lleida’s Aula de Teatre [a drama school for children and adults] fell victim to sexual abuse following the familiar pattern: those in power took advantage of their position and those who could have stopped them did nothing. Our report on sex abuse does not appeal to values but it decries just how easy it was (maybe still is?) to abuse women and children and it shows how much ground we still need to cover in terms of respect and dignity. Ours is still a sick society when it comes to respect for women.